“Philip Rosedale: The Media Is Wrong, Second Life Didn’t Fail” is an interesting new PandoDaily article with a lot of points one could quibble with, and a lot more that’s already been exhaustively covered here, but at least one passage stands out to me and is worth highlighting:
[R]osedale argued hard — and pretty convincingly — that Second Life was a success. Second Life has 1 million active users… The problem — really the only problem, but a big one nonetheless — is they couldn’t ever find a way to make those numbers grow. Nothing they did worked, and Rosedale doubts that even early Facebook integration would have helped. And as Rosedale pointed out, VCs invested half a billion dollars in Second Life competitors, and none of them found a way to get beyond that number either.
To be fair to Philip (and it’s foolish to fail to), I think he’s probably referring to the many virtual worlds that were launched shortly before and after SL went commercial. (Think Sims Online, think There.) But if by “competitor” we mean a 3D virtual world with user-generated 3D content, I think several virtual worlds have attracted much more than a million users. For instance:
Roblox, the 3D game world building platform, claims “millions of users”, and its Google Ad Planner data seems to back that up.
IMVU, the 3D virtual chat room with user-generated content (which is also sold in a virtual marketplace), had about 3 million users last year.
Minecraft isn’t strictly a singly virtual world, but a lot of its millions of players connect on multiplayer servers, which are effectively mini virtual worlds.
Some SLers will say these aren’t direct competitors with Second Life, and to be obsessively strict about it, that’s true. (Then again, to judge by recent ads, Linden Lab itself considers IMVU a competitor.) Some objections have been rendered moot by Second Life’s own evolution: You could insist that a virtual world must be a fully contiguous space, but in practicality, SL hasn’t really been like that in years. For how it’s used by 70% of its users, who rarely explore outside their log-in point, it might as well be a series of separate chat rooms.
All that to one side: It remains true that there is a proven market for 3D simulated worlds where user-generated content is possible and Socialverse popular, and it’s much larger than a million. (10-15 million seems like a more plausible number to me.) So I’d say the reasons for SL failing to pass that one million hurdle remain more vexing than a larger lack of interest.
The key to making a virtual world is:
1) let customers enjoy their make believe world without tomes of regulations and rules. Some rules, yes — needing a lawyer to know what is permissible, no.
2) let customers be able to make money that they can then cash out into real funds, or otherwise pay their charges with. Everyone wanted to be the next Stroker, so a vibrant inworld economy is a must.
3) communities keep SL together, in spite of your platform’s numerous serious faults and dead-end directions. People who are a part of a community put up with lots of hassles to stay while those without one simply quit and take their money to play WoW or something.
Making communities and landowners actually want to be in SL is the critical lynchpin your company has never been able to comprehend. With your super high prices and your 10,000 commandments, along with a viewer that won’t work when you try to login the first time with an Nvidia card, it’s no wonder you have lots of signups and few visitors.
You create a Disneyworld — treat your customers like visitors to Disneyworld rather than inmates of your private jail.
I must admit, I wonder about that million active users. But getting 7% of the total market isn’t bad going. Increasing that number would be good, but eventually SL is going to hit limits on the overall system design. Peak numbers have dropped, but getting past 70,000 concurrent users would be the big technical barrier.
I am not going to waste time suggesting what Linden Labs could do better. but SL has bugs that are older than general access to Facebook.